People are complaining about Karin's strength in Street Fighter 5, but is it accurate to deem her cheap?

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • June 4, 2019 at 7:41 p.m. PDT | Comments: 104

I'm addressing this because the notion that Karin is cheap popped up in my life twice over the weekend, once via a Twitter post between a pair of notable players, and once at my local ranbats. In both instances, the general community reaction was similar: no she's not.

When my friend made the statement, a few of us couldn't belt out the fact that we definitely disagreed with it fast enough. Brian_F's Twitter poll was close, but 52% of the 2,149 voters agreed that she wasn't cheap. That still leaves around 1,030 people that did indeed feel the character nabs wins too easily, so the answer to the question is certainly not overwhelmingly obvious to our community. Let's dive in deeper and see if we can't come to a firmer conclusion.

A good place to start would be to ask why people would consider Karin cheap to begin with. She's always been a strong character, (especially strong in Season 1) but has never incited the kind of heat that Street Fighter 5's most inflammatory fighters (Season 1 R. Mika, Nash, and Chun-Li; Season 2 Balrog, Laura, and Urien; Season 3 Abigail and Rashid; Cammy in general) have.

I'll note that Karin actually had the most Capcom Pro Tour wins back in Season 1 / 2016, (many of those were thanks to Victrix|Justin Wong) that the community took some issue (still not as much as with other characters) and Capcom did indeed nerf her a bit after that.

So what's different now? The best player in the world at the moment, REC|Punk, has made it to four out of four Premier event grand finals, won three of them, and took first at Ranking event Dreamhack Dallas over the weekend. He feels all but unstoppable right now, even besting players who use characters that have traditionally given Karin a rough time.

When a character is winning this much, the conversation is almost certainly going to gravitate towards a discussion about whether or not they're cheap, broken, or overpowered. The key distinction to note here is that strong doesn't always mean overpowered and consistent wins don't always translate to a fighter being broken.

The important detail in analyzing this comes in answering how the character earns their victories. What does a player have to put in to get success to come out? How did we feel about Abigail doing his roll without being concerned whether or not it actually hits, cancelling into V-Trigger and gaining a 50/50 mix up that lops off more than half a life bar if correct, and then putting you in another 50/50 mix up to potentially win the round?

How did we feel about Season 2 Urien freely tossing out an EX Tackle that he cancels into Aegis Reflector that leaves you in mix up hell that can end the round regardless of how much life you have left?

Instances like those left the opposing player feeling incredibly helpless, defeated, and cheated. Why? Because the risk was so low and reward was so high, these sequences didn't take much nuance, thought, or precision to garner some extremely profitable results.

Think about the audience reaction after Abigail stole a round. It wouldn't be too uncommon for one person to look to their neighbor with a slight smirk that implied "the winner just got away with some BS and you know how validly salty the loser feels right now because we've all been there."

So where does Karin fit into all of this? She's a footsie master who relies on single hit confirms to score wins. The character certainly has the tools to get the job the done, (fast walk speed, great buttons, great conversions, and reduced input lag to buff it all) but they require a very skilled player to be useful.

Here's an example from the Final Round 2019 grand finals wherein Punk broke down Victrix|Momochi with confirm after confirm, eventually resetting and ultimately winning the set:

Click images for animated versions

To win with Karin at higher levels requires gruelingly constant attention to smallest details of an opponent's movement patterns. It requires a blend of both prediction and reaction into a move (Tenko) that requires just frame timing.

She gets punished for her troubles if she is incorrect in her execution or assessment, and her low health magnifies the severity of this. Perfecting Karin's strengths take a lot more time than most all of the previously mentioned characters, and no one has even come close to Punk in the way of efficiency and results.

The term "cheap" (for how it's being used here) is defined as "gained or done with little effort." While Punk might make it look easy sometimes, this definition doesn't seem to line up with Karin at all. She earns her wins.

If anything, I'd argue that Karin is one of the best looks in fighting games in a long time. It's not all that often we come across righteous top tiers that carry a fairly balanced sense of risk and reward.

That's just my opinion, and I wonder how many of you agree or disagree. The discussion is open, so feel free to hit up the comments with your thoughts.

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